Eating is a source of enjoyment to many. However, sometimes, this enjoyment can be followed by acid reflux and heartburn. And in worst cases, this could be so persistent and can develop to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Heartburn symptoms and acid reflux symptoms, common as they may seem to many, should be properly addressed properly before it develops to GERD.
What is Heartburn?
Heartburn is the burning pain that we feel just right behind our chest bone. This normally occurs after a meal. Heartburn occurs when the stomach acids produced during digestion refluxes back into your esophagus.
What causes Heartburn?
In the process of digestion, the food travels from the mouth to the stomach through a tube called the esophagus. When the food gets into the stomach, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) tightens to prevent food and stomach acid from refluxing into your esophagus.
LES is a special group of circular muscles located in between the esophagus and stomach. When the lower esophageal sphincter relaxes, nothing prevents the acids produced by the stomach from going back or creeping up to your throat. This process is called acid reflux.
Acid reflux is mainly the reason why heartburn occurs. There are some cases though where acid reflux may not cause heartburn. But definitely, heartburn will not take place without having acid reflux first.
Almost everyone experiences heartburn. One of the main heartburn symptoms is the uncomfortable burning pain we feel behind our chest bones. This is normally accompanied by:
- A feeling of food stuck in the throat or
- Water brash, sour taste at the back end of the throat
- It also causes hoarseness or coughing episodes
Medical attention should be immediately given to someone whose heartburn symptoms are accompanied by shortness of breath, cold sweat or dizziness, and/or radiation to the neck or arms. Proper medical evaluation and care can prevent further health issues and complications.
Heartburn can be stopped by preventing and controlling acid reflux. In most cases, home remedies like a spoonful of mustard or baking soda diluted in a cup of water can do the trick. However, if you opt to go to a drugstore, over-the-counter medicines like proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), antacids, and histamine H2 antagonists are available to ease and treat heartburn.
Acid Reflux: An Overview
The process of digestion produces acidic gastric fluids or stomach acids. Acid reflux happens when stomach acid creeps up or refluxes back into the esophagus. This normally comes with a burning sensation in the esophagus and chest pain known as heartburn.
Acid refluxes normally happen when we drink or eat foods that could trigger increased acid production. It basically takes place when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) relaxes, letting stomach acid and other stomach contents to move and slide up back to the esophagus.
What are the symptoms of acid reflux?
There are three most common acid reflux symptoms. These are heartburn, regurgitation, and dyspepsia.
- Heartburn. This acid reflux symptom is also called acid indigestion. Heartburn is an uncomfortable burning pain just behind the chest or breastbone. This is commonly mistaken with heart attack. The burning sensation and pain normally starts from the stomach to the esophagus and even reaches the throat.
- Regurgitation. One of the most common acid reflux symptoms, regurgitation, is the feeling you get when acid is backing up from the stomach to your throat and mouth. This produces a sour and bitter taste, wet burp, or can cause you to vomit some contents from your stomach.
- Dyspepsia. The term dyspepsia is used to generally describe stomach discomfort. Dyspepsia symptoms are stomach fullness or bloating, nausea after eating, upper abdominal discomfort or pain, and burping.
Tips to avoid Acid Reflux Symptoms
Acid reflux symptoms are mostly observed after taking a heavy meal. To avoid experiencing these acid reflux symptoms, here are some practical and easy tips you can apply.
- Practice eating several small meals each day. Eating in small portions several times a day gives your digestive system a good time to run properly than eating 3 big meals per day. Having 3 big meals a day makes your stomach do more, therefore increasing acid production to aid digestion.
- Eat slowly. Chew your food properly and don’t be in a hurry. Chewing your food properly aids your stomach to easily digest it. No need to produce extra acid for digestion. Also, eating slowly gives your stomach enough time to accept, tolerate, and digest all the food you’re eating.
- Don’t eat right before bedtime. Eating should be done 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. This way, you will have enough time to digest food before lying down. When lying down, your digestive system will get a hard time digesting food which will likely result to heartburn.
- Have your drink before and after meals. As much as possible, avoid drinking while you are having your meal. Excessive water or liquid intake, when mixed with food, can make you bloat fast and trigger acid reflux and heartburn.
- After a meal, sit or stand. Another effective way to avoid acid reflux symptoms is to stand or sit up straight after a meal. After finishing your meal do not lie down or do something that will make you bend down. These positions will make the food you eat go back to your esophagus. Instead, after a meal, go take a short leisurely walk or sit down and read a book.
Your diet can greatly affect the occurrence of acid reflux symptoms. To avoid acid reflux from happening, here are some of the food that you need to stay away from.
- Chocolates. Everyone likes or loves chocolates. But for people prone to acid reflux, sorry but you need to avoid it. Chocolates contain ingredients that can strongly trigger acid reflux. These ingredients are cocoa, fat, and stimulants such as caffeine and theobromine. If you can’t completely avoid chocolates, make sure to eat moderately.
- Soda. Carbonated drinks are main triggers of acid reflux. The bubbles created by carbonation can make your stomach full and expand. This increases stomach pressure that will result to reflux.
- Coffee and other caffeinated drinks. Many of us are coffee lovers. But for those avoiding acid reflux, make sure to avoid coffee and other drinks that contain caffeine as this can highly trigger acid reflux.
- Fried and fatty food. Fried foods or food with high fat content are harder to digest, causing the stomach to produce more acid to help in digestion. Also, these types of food can cause your lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to relax, causing acid to slide up to your esophagus.
- Alcohol. Liquor, beer, or wine are just a few of those alcohol drinks that you need to stay away from to avoid acid reflux. Alcohol drinks are bad triggers of acid reflux because it relaxes the LES, causing it to open and let stomach acid move up into your esophagus and throat.
Home Remedies and Medications for Acid Reflux Symptoms
Acid reflux symptoms can be controlled and prevented. Listed below are effective home remedies and recommended over-the-counter (OTC) medications that can ease, control, and prevent acid reflux.
- Chew a gum. Aside from the fact that it can freshen your breath, chewing a gum has other advantages, specially for people having persistent heartburns. In the Journal of Dental Research, a study shows that people with GERD experience relief from heartburn after chewing a sugar-free gum, 30 minutes after a meal. Chewing a gum stimulates and increases saliva production. When there is good saliva production, it helps dilute accumulated acids in the gut and helps clear out acid fast.
- Banana or apple. These fruits, banana and apple, contain natural antacids that can help block acid reflux and avoid heartburn. If you want a healthy and natural way to combat acid reflux, try eating one banana a day. You can also try eating one apple few hours before going to bed and experience the comfort it can bring to your stomach and esophagus.
- Almonds. These nuts are not just delicious and tasty. Almonds have natural properties that can counterbalance acids in your stomach. Eating a couple of almonds after every meal can reduce the chances of acid reflux and heartburn.
- Baking soda. Baking soda has lots of uses at home; one of which is to relieve and prevent acid reflux that may cause heartburn. Because it is a base, sodium bicarbonate commonly known as baking soda, can counterbalance stomach acids. Half or one teaspoon of baking soda, when mixed with a glass of water, can do the trick. However, baking soda should not be used as a regular remedy by people having persistent acid reflux or heartburn as it is high in salt which could cause nausea and swelling. For occasional acid reflux and heartburn, baking soda is definitely a relief provider.
- Mustard. It might not be a favorite of many, but mustard can bring quick heartburn relief to everyone. Mustard is an alkalizing food and has lots of minerals. It also has a weak type of acid from its vinegar content. These alkaline properties that mustard has can neutralize and counterbalance acids produced by the stomach during digestion. All it takes is a spoonful of mustard, and the acids creeping up from your stomach to your esophagus will be calmed down, warding off heartburn.
- Aloe juice. Look for aloe juice for internal use. It has a soothing effect that can reduce inflammation and ward off acid reflux. All you need is a half cup of aloe juice before meals. Aloe juice is easy to find and mostly available in supermarkets.
- Coconut water. Drinking coconut water can help counterbalance acids in the stomach.
- Fennel seeds. Fennel seeds have properties that can help counterbalance stomach acids. In a cup of boiling water, add 2 teaspoon of fennel seeds. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Drink it with or without sugar.
- Ginger tea. Homemade ginger tea is another thing you can do to ease and prevent heartburn. Ginger is not just an ordinary kitchen spice. It can prevent and cure various stomach issues such as acid reflux because of its gastro protective effect. All you need to do is slice 3 quarter-sized ginger into thin and small pieces and let it boil in 2 cups of water for about 30 minutes. Cool it down to tolerable temperature and have a sip of your homemade ginger tea. Drinking this tea at least 20 minutes before a meal can prevent acid reflux and heartburn.
- Chamomile tea. Acid reflux which causes heartburn can be triggered by stress. A cup of chamomile tea before going to bed has a calming effect that can relieve stress and prevent acid reflux. Aside from that, chamomile tea can also help ease and lessen stomach inflammation and balances acidity levels in the stomach.
Antacids. For many, antacids can provide instant heartburn relief by neutralizing stomach acids. Antacids are mostly used by people with occasional heartburn.They are not intended to heal inflamed or damaged esophagus. So, for people with severe or persistent heartburn, antacids might not bring relief to you. Side effects of antacids if overused are constipation or diarrhea. Examples of these are:
H2 Antagonist. This type of medication works by blocking histamine’s action. Histamine is a chemical that encourages and promotes acid production within the stomach. As an outcome, production of acid decreases and acid reflux can be avoided. Examples of these are:
Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs). This is another type of medication that prevents stomach acid production. Examples of these are:
Even though these medications are OTCs, it is still important to talk to your doctor as it may conflict with other drugs that you are taking. Consulting your doctor for acid reflux symptoms and heartburn symptoms is also beneficial because they can conduct tests and prescribe medications to prevent more serious conditions.